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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Pulls Set-Top Proposal

Ajit Pai, the new Trump-appointed chairman of the FCC, has removed from the agency’s agenda a proposal designed to foster alternative choices to pay-TV provider-supplied set-top boxes — a prelude to the plan likely being terminated.

The proposal, championed by previous FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, is not officially closed at the agency but it will not be an agenda item for consideration for a vote at this point, according to an FCC rep. The item may be reviewed and could be put back on circulation with modifications, said agency spokesman Mark Wigfield, adding, “It’s standard practice for items to come off the list in a change of administration.”

The move isn’t a surprise: Republican Pai has said he wants to eliminate many of the FCC’s regulations enacted under the Obama administration. “We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation,” he said in a December speech.

The Wheeler-led “open” set-top proposal had been opposed by cable, satellite and telco TV providers, as well as Hollywood studios, TV programmers, music groups, unions and guilds. Critics argued that the plan would impose unnecessary and costly new requirements that wouldn’t really benefit consumers and threaten copyright protections.

MPAA chairman and CEO Chris Dodd cheered Pai’s decision to drop the proposal. “As the creative community has made clear from the start, we support competition within the set-top box market, but not at the expense of copyright policy or the livelihoods of millions of American creators,” Dodd said in a statement.

Wheeler, in a tweet early Tuesday, called Pai’s move a “victory for Cablewood over consumers” — his term for the joint interests of the pay-TV and entertainment industries. He asserted that dropping the proposal amounts to a “$200 million Pai Tax on helpless cable subs. Trump helping little guy??”

Originally, the FCC’s set-top plan would have established an open-standard platform so third-party manufacturers could make devices that could receive pay-TV programming. After strong industry resistance, the FCC last fall revised the proposal to require pay-TV operators to offer free apps on internet-streaming devices. But the agency was forced to call off a vote on it, with officials saying they could not resolve technical and legal issues.

Pai is also expected to train his sites on revising or eliminating the FCC’s network neutrality rules, one of the biggest legacies of the Wheeler regime. Those regulations ban ISPs from discriminating against content sources and regulates broadband services under Title II provisions that previously applied only to telephone service.

Two years ago, Pai called the net neutrality a “secret plan to regulate the internet” in voicing his dissent to the FCC’s Open Internet Order. Large internet companies like Google and Netflix have backed network neutrality, while cable and telco providers are fighting it in federal court.

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